4 skills accountants need to succeed in a tech-enabled future

New duties will require plenty of understanding and good communication.
By Ken Tysiac and Jeff Drew

Many experts expect accountants' work and duties to change fundamentally in the coming years. As technology is developed to handle tasks that accountants traditionally have performed, CPAs' attention is likely to shift toward advisory roles, investigating exceptions and anomalies identified by technology, and developing processes and controls that will enable technology to perform certain necessary tasks. The technology will allow for a more complete audit that uses all available data rather than samples. And the scrutinizing of anomalies will provide opportunities for auditors to provide more useful information to clients.

Here are some of the skills CPAs will need to succeed in these new duties:

  • Understand how processes work. Even the most well-designed technological solutions are useless if they are not set up properly and monitored to determine whether they are performing effectively. Advising and consulting on business process improvements also will be a promising niche for CPAs in the future.
  • Communicate effectively with technologists. Successful CPAs who understand processes likely will not have the technological skills to code and implement systems. Technology experts, meanwhile, are unlikely to understand accounting and auditing rules and the deliverables required from systems. CPAs will need to be able to team with technologists and describe the decision trees that must be embedded in the technology to process the correct data and deliver the desired intelligence.
  • Learn to advise or consult, not command. Accountants are used to providing rule-based, definitive answers about making appropriate journal entries, information to be included in footnotes, and whether financial statements are materially misstated. But as accountants take on more advisory and consulting duties, they will need to learn how to provide opinions and advocate for their ideas without being overbearing.
  • Analyze data and communicate with clients. As technology results in the automation of more compliance-based services, accountants will have more time to spend with clients. To make the most of this time, accountants will need to learn how to analyze data for business insights and then be able to communicate those insights to clients.

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